Ardent academic appreciation of theater has earned a sophomore theater and English major of the Robert E. Cook Honors College at Indiana University of Pennsylvania national recognition for her dramaturgy skill.
Jessica Sabol, of Morrisdale, PA, has been awarded a 2008 National Selection Teams Fellowship to compete in the dramaturgy category at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C. in April.
“I enjoy sharing my passion about the historical and critical side of a production with the company and audience to enhance their experience and further their learning,” Sabol explained. “Most of all, I hope to make them want to do the research themselves going back to the sources. Discovering correspondences in what you already know and what you are learning is a very rewarding feeling.”
Sabol has served as dramaturg for IUP productions including The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a contemporary Irish dark comedy, and Kindertransport, a play about children being saved from the Holocaust. She is the dramaturg for IUP’s current production of King Henry IV Part I
“As a dramaturg, I am typically in charge of much of the research and writing behind a theatrical production. This role, however, is different for every production, and I design my own process with each show I work on. In The Beauty Queen of Leenane, historical research beyond the basics was not necessary so I approached it emotively for both the company and the audience’s emotional response and understanding.
“I solely worked with history during Kindertransport, and for the department’s current production of King Henry IV Part I, I am working to bring the understanding between the true history of England to the theatrical history created by Shakespeare.”
In her role as dramaturg, she also helps company with any questions, builds a web site for reference and tries to inspire the artists involved to use the resources provided to further their own knowledge and research for the production. Sabol also uses a lobby display and program notes to further understanding, interest, and experience at the theater.
“I enjoy my dramaturgical work because it incorporates what I most enjoy about producing theatre—history and criticism behind a production or script,” she said. “When I was in high school, I was an actor and learned to love theatre by performing. Now, as an academic, I have grown to appreciate theatre more and more through dissecting scripts, choices, etc. and helping others to have a similar academic experience.” Sabol continues to evolve her dramaturgy skills by taking on the dramaturg role. “With Jessica's double major in English and theater and her exceptional writing skills, she has grown considerably in her dramaturgy skills despite only discovering last year that she had an interest in this area,” said Barb Blackledge, chair of IUP’s theater and dance department. “She did a masterful job in serving as dramaturg for our fall production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane. She was able to use this opportunity to exhibit her excellent work on this production at the festival as well as the competition exhibits there.”
The Beauty Queen of Leenane was one of only seven in IUP’s competition region, which includes all of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., invited to perform at the Region II KCACTF at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in January.
“Honestly, the biggest enhancement of both my interest and skills was attending the regional KCACTF,” said Sabol, who was selected for the national competition for her outstanding achievement at regional festivals. “At the festival I was able to see others work, get feedback on my work, and attend sessions about dramaturgy. I found flaws in my work and got new ideas and approaches from these opportunities in Pittsburgh, and I have since worked to better my product as I work with King Henry IV Part I this spring.”
Only eight students in the nation are chosen to compete in each of eight categories including set, costume, light, sound and makeup design, stage management, directing and dramaturgy. The regional and national competitions are comprised primarily of graduate students.
“To be invited on a Fellowship Scholarship to the National KCACTF is one of the most amazing opportunities I could hope for,” Sabol said. “It is really an honor to be selected, especially at the national level for my work. More than anything, I find it humbling because I never expected to go to festival as a sophomore. Most of the students at nationals are graduate level.” Sabol is most looking toward working with like minds interested in dramaturgy. “At the festival, I am very excited to participate in workshops with world-renowned artists in my field of interest.” she said. “In fact, I will be working with the dramaturg from the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. which is the theater that I would be most interested in pursuing an internship or job with. This festival gives me an opportunity to have a week of learning with individuals interested in dramaturgy, learn from professionals, and network on the national level. It is an absolutely priceless opportunity.”
In addition to her role as dramaturg for IUP productions, Sabol is the treasurer of the RECHC’s TOST and Turned, a student-run service-theater group. She directed a one-act production last year. She has also written two 10-minute shows the group will perform this spring.
“I hope to continue as a dramaturg throughout my undergraduate career, but I think it will be helpful to my understanding as a dramaturg, and, hopefully, a playwright, to direct and act, so I am hoping to work in those areas starting next semester,” she said. “I would also like to continue working on scripts, and hopefully have a successful ten minute or one-act staged in the theater department before I leave.
“I really enjoy playwrighting. I need to work more at it, when I find the time, but I would say that it is a larger passion to me than dramaturgy because it incorporates everything I do as a dramaturg into something I create. I love dramatic structure, and I think that a well-crafted script is one of the most beautiful forms of literature. A playwright gets to bring characters to life, and the playwright can only say what he or she wants to say through a character’s mouth. It’s tough, and I still haven’t ever got it right, but it is very rewarding.”